Parents and teachers are invited to attend a national Catholic conference on sexual education which will be held in Cheshire.
Called “Educating Children in Sexuality: Complementary Role of Parents and Teachers”, the event will take place at Aquinas College, Stockport, late in the afternoon of Friday March 1.
The conference is being hosted jointly by the Diocese of Shrewsbury and the Catholic Union of Great Britain.
The key speakers include Father Jaroslaw Szymczak, lecturer in family science at Cardinal Wyszynski University, Warsaw, Poland, chaplain to the World Congress of Families, and chaplain to the Polish Catholic Association of Gynaecologists.
They include Robert O’Brien, head of Religious Education and Personal, Social and Health Education (PHSE) at Westminster Cathedral Choir School, London.
Speakers also include Louise Kirk (pictured below), the Crewe-based UK coordinator of Alive to the World PHSE programme and author of the forthcoming book, Sexuality Explained: A Guide for Parents and Children, which will be launched at the conference.
The Catholic Church holds that an appropriate understanding of sexuality is critical to the full development of every child and of society.
Under the leadership of recent popes, the Church has led the world in expounding both the spiritual and human values of an authentic education in sexuality.
The conference in Stockport will explore the teaching of the Church and show how schools can help parents impart that teaching to their children.
More information about the conference, including details about booking a place, can be found by downloading the links below:
Aquinas College 1 March Conference Web Details (411.9 KiB)
Conference Flyer For 1 March (646.4 KiB)
Sexuality Explained Flyer (576.2 KiB)
The following article by Mrs Kirk appeared in the autumn 2012 edition of the Shrewsbury Catholic Voice, the quarterly magazine of the Diocese of Shrewsbury:
How to prepare every child confidently for marriage
Louise Kirk, a mother-of-four from Crewe, is enthusiastic about a new education resource that teaches children self-respect
It was a chance meeting on a Warsaw bus which led on to my becoming the UK Co-ordinator of Alive to the World. I was drawn in slowly, of course (God is a master tactician) and I certainly did not realise that the books I was to market in England had yet to be edited or published. But the concept behind Alive to the World and its success in Latin America, where the programme has dramatically reduced school violence and truancy and is now beginning to show the hoped for reduction in teenage pregnancy, is so compelling that I am caught.
Teaching children the truth about how to live life well is arguably the most important task facing our country. At the nub of this is knowing who we are as people, which includes a right understanding of sexuality. Christine Vollmer has a great love for children – she is mother of seven – and she created Alive to the World to be a positive answer to the many pleas for help which were reaching the Pontifical Council for the Family, on which she sits.
Mrs Vollmer started from the seamless moral teaching of the Church. She then took the latest scientific studies on how human nature works. As the daughter of an anthropologist, and from her international vantage point in the pro-family movement, she was able to draw on a wide range of research, much of it from people she knows personally. So closely does Church teaching knit with honest secular studies that she found she could drop all mention of religion from her programme and so extend it for all children. At the same time, her work supports good RE, giving children two pillars for faith.
What I love about Alive to the World is that it is so full of wisdom lightly treated. It starts from the assumption that children, from however broken a background, are naturally idealistic and can be taught to seek the best if they are individually loved and kept busy. It makes much of teamwork, and of appreciating that self-respect is born out of discipline and making the most of our talents, cheerfully. It teaches children to respect and trust others, and to value community while being open to those outside it. Crucially, it teaches the importance of family and that every child can prepare confidently for marriage. Mrs Vollmer comments that many children from the shanty towns of her Venezuelan homeland never experience married family life outside the Alive to the World books.
To capture children’s interest, Mrs Vollmer uses stories. Charlie and Alice grow up alongside the target readers, engaging their interest and keeping moral lessons at a safe distance. The qualities that prepare for a good marriage are identical with those of a good student, a reliable worker and a productive citizen. Alive to the World thus takes a seamless approach to Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE), in which sound living is positively taught and the “poisons” of life are shown to be destructive. These include alcoholism and drugs but also sheer lack of truthfulness. The infrastructure of all human relationships is trust and Western society is now witnessing that, when people are not radically honest, whole economies are at risk. The pupil books, which are accompanied by detailed teacher guides, also make rich reading at home.
The physical intimacies of sex are not covered in Alive to the World, respecting as it does the Church’s insistent teaching that parents must take on the role of educator. This is in bewildering contrast with what is going on at the moment and it is going to take a big effort from the entire community to make the required changes. Encouraging parents to take part may be the Catholic community’s only protection against sex being taught along ideological lines which undermine faith and morality (see Eric Hester’s article in the last issue of the Shrewsbury Catholic Voice). Various dioceses have recently been rewriting sex education policies to take account of The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality (see the Vatican’s website) and I believe that our own diocesan policy is well underway. The Catholic Education Service also confirmed to me on the telephone Fr Timothy Gardner’s announcement that new guidance for RE will include teaching Theology of the Body at Secondary Level. To help teachers understand The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality, a small group of us are planning a major conference under the auspices of the Catholic Union of Great Britain, and with the support of Maryvale, which we hope will take place next spring.
It is not easy for parents to take back a role which has been seized from them and to teach truths they may never have been taught. To help, I have found myself writing Sexuality Explained: a guide for parents which will be published by Gracewing in February 2013. It builds up in 10 sections an overview of the biology of sex, using a simple conversational form which can be used flexibly to do the job for parents or help them form their own words. My writing has been fuelled by my fury at the errors I have found in well-used programmes of sex education, taught both in PSHE and in science lessons. If the state insists on teaching children sex, how dare it give out-of-date and misleading information knowing that children’s lifelong decisions are based on it!
Late last year I wrote a detailed submission to the Government’s PSHE consultation showing from its own data that 40 years of contraceptive-backed sex education have failed even in the limited target of reducing teenage pregnancy. Worse than that, sex education has undermined the rest of PSHE. In it alone do we say: “You feel like it. Get on with it, but here are a few drugs to make it safe.” Children who are sexually active do less well at school, and unsurprisingly are more prone to drink, drugs, depression, violence and even suicide. Promiscuity and contraception also damage fertility and the precious ability to bond permanently. What we are facing is a future society of loose adults with nobody to love and care for them, or to pay for them in old age. The greatest sadness is that those most at risk are the least privileged. It is for their sake that we have to start a new culture.
Wonderful things are happening to help us on our way. In May this year, I attended the World Congress of Families in Madrid and heard again the data. Our own political parties might envy the unity of the pro-family movement in which thousands of people gather from every country, professional discipline and faith and say the same things: in a nutshell, Catholic teaching on sexuality and family has after all proved right. That is not all. In these difficult times, when family is under attack as never before, the different churches and faiths are drawing together and old wounds are being healed. Who is to say but that the Cinderella subject of sex might not yet be a catalyst for ecumenism. God is a master tactician. I would put nothing past Him.
Alive to the World is published in the UK by Gracewing (see www.alivetotheworld.co.uk). If you should chance to have an hour or two spare a week and would like to get involved in its further development, please contact Louise on email@example.com.
(Photo by Simon Caldwell, St Gabriel News and Media)